It may be one of the oldest clichés in the English language, but time does indeed seem to “fly” when one seems to be “having fun”.
No sooner was I writing a blog on how to make the most of Christmas in Japan than I found myself talking about the coming new school year in April. And now, suddenly here we are having passed Golden Week and already looking towards the summer and beyond.
It seems time moves faster as I get older.
But anyway, rather than lament on the futility of one’s mortality, let’s talk about something more positive. Summer brings with it one of the most enjoyable events of the year. Those long, luxurious summer barbecues!
Photo: Jun Seita on Flickr
Yes nothing seems to capture the spirit of the Japanese summer time than a good barbecue, where the cold beer flows freely and there are succulent meats aplenty.
Photo: Osamu Iwasaki on Flickr
I’ll be honest, at this time of year I find myself becoming lazier than usual. I prefer the pre-prepared comfort of a beer garden and all you can eat buffet to the trials of prepping and cooking one’s own barbecue; or, at least, that was the case until I moved to Osaka.
If there’s one big area where Kansai totally trounces Tokyo and the Kanto region it is in the amount of freely available parks and other greenspace that makes the perfect venue for a good barbecue.
So, dear readers, here’s how you can make the perfect summer barbecue in Japan for you and your family.
First of all, it’s very important to find a suitable location for your barbecue, ideally one that is not too far away from public transport, but at the same time not too close to the hustle and bustle of the city centre. This is, after all, supposed to be a day to unwind and forget your daily urban stresses, is it not?
Whilst Japan, and indeed Kansai in particular has an abundance of beautiful parks and recreational areas available for public use, not all of these are suitable for barbecues. It would be wise to check with your local parks and recreations department at your local city ward office to see just which parks and communal areas allow barbecues and which do not. It is here that many foreign visitors to Japan may first encounter a potential stumbling block.
Photo: Froschmann on Flickr
For starters, in stark contrast to what our Australian friends may be used to, beach barbecues are, in most cases a definite no-no in Japan. Japan prides itself in the cleanliness and smoke free atmosphere of its beaches. As such, many beaches do not allow barbecues, due to concerns about both littering and air pollution. Again there are regional variations in this regard and it does no harm to check with the local ward office to see what their policy is.
One of the big plus points of many modern Japanese apartment buildings are the large balconies and verandas found on many of the buildings here.
Photo: Sander Weisz on Flickr
However, whilst a balcony barbecue may seem like a wonderful idea, again this is a pretty major faux-pas in Japanese society.
Smoke, noise and the potential nuisance to your neighbours are primary concerns here. And let’s face it, you wouldn’t be too happy if you hung out a fresh laundry to dry in the morning only to come home and find the whole lot smelling of charcoal grilled burgers, would you?
So, do your research and find a suitable park or local venue for your barbecue. It is Japanese custom to always invite people at least a week or two ahead of schedule so that they can be sure to free up the necessary time.
Photo: Emil Olsen on Flickr
Given that most Japanese apartments and houses are often restricted in their amount of free space, most Japanese do not opt to buy a real barbecue as we would know it. Instead, local home centres and department stores sell smaller table top disposable barbecues for no more than a couple of thousand yen. You’ll also be able to get your charcoal and fire-lighters there too.
So, you’ve got a location, you’ve got your barbecue, the guests have been invited. So now to the all-important question. What are you going to cook?
With Summer Barbecues being the global phenomenon that they are, you’ll find quite a few popular items from back home on a typical Japanese menu. Burgers, hot dog sausages, grilled chicken, and all the usual favourites are here.
Photo: Anthony Jauneuad on Flickr
Photo: Philippa McKinlay on Flickr
There are of course a few uniquely Japanese ideas you can bring forward to give your barbecue that distinctive local flavour.
For starters, how about some Hokkaido Salmon?
Salmon is of course a globally recognized seafood, indeed I will still argue passionately that the salmon that comes from my native Scotland is right up there with the best in the world. Yet there is something special about the Hokkaido-style salmon which I had the pleasure of sampling for the first time at a barbecue in Tokyo several years ago.
To make Hokkaido-style salmon on your barbecue, you will need to wrap the salmon in foil. In amongst the salmon, place some chopped onions, a little vinegar and some lightly chopped cabbage. Wrap this up and grill it on your barbecue for about 10 minutes and you will be left with a sensationally flavoured fish that just melts in your mouth.
Photo: Valerie Lam on Flickr
Sticking with a seafood theme, if you are lucky enough to live in one of Japan’s coastal areas, then you can’t go wrong with some fresh shellfish. King prawns, scallops, mussels, tuna steaks, Japan has them all. Foil wrapped sweet potatoes make an excellent and wholesome accompaniment to such delicious seafood.
For a little dessert treat, I will suggest a recipe that, whilst not typically Japanese, has proven to be a big hit at all the barbecues I’ve attended here down the years. I refer of course to my legendary barbecued bananas.
Photo: Neil Rickards on Flickr
Get some large bananas, one for each person, and peel the skin down one side only. Into this one exposed side rub some grated chocolate, regular chocolate is also fine, but can get a bit messy. Close up the exposed side of the banana again and place it onto the barbecue for about 10 minutes, or until the entire outside of the skin turns black. Be sure to rotate the bananas during cooking to ensure they are evenly cooked all over.
Photo: Patrick on Flickr
When your black bananas are ready, place then onto a plate, peel back the side once again and top it off with some aerosol cream. The gooey mess of hot banana, melted chocolate and cool, refreshing cream is a taste too good to be summed up in simple words
With summer just around the corner, there’s no better time to get planning that first barbecue of the year. Have a great summer everyone!